By dint of size, growth and contribution to the UK economy, the small to medium sized business is the ‘new black’. But while the UK government is just beginning to recognise its importance by the recent introduction of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act and making strides in encouraging young enterprise, many established SMEs are still in recovery from a long and punishing recession.
With the influence of e-commerce, the increased use of social media and online referrals it has become harder for some businesses to keep hold of customers or clients, so it has never been more important for SMEs to review their customer strategy.
WDG Research over a number of years has used market insights to assist B2B and B2C clients create a successful customer experience (CX). We have also spoken to associates that operate in the SME B2B sector and, for them, maintaining a positive and authentic client relationship is crucial to their success.
Here are some thoughts shared:
Business media frequently publishes articles on customer excellence achieved by big brands, paying little attention to customer facing SME businesses. Yet smaller businesses are often more able to deliver a good customer experience and generate brand fans without huge investment, by simply delivering a consistently reliable optimised service.
Why is this important? Customer reviews online has become the ‘go to’ default for many intended customers, from Trip Advisor to Google Reviews, even for local businesses. Facebook and Snapchat provide an opportunity to share and discuss (mainly negative) experiences amongst a wide audience. B2C businesses need all the positive reviews they can get.
There are simple strategies which create CX success which small businesses can adopt. WDG’s insights from CX studies reveal some basic expectations:
- Reliability: consistent quality and delivery of service/product
- Personalised service: customer is treated as an individual (i.e beyond the CRM)
- Uncomplicated channels of communication: navigable website, accessible and friendly call centre, minimal telephony routeing – continue a consistent positive experience across all channels
- Rapid resolution of issues
First Direct is an example of how to get it right from the very beginning. In 2014 it came top of a list of 263 UK brands in a study conducted by Nunwood Customer Experience Excellence Centre. First Direct consistently delivers a personal service where staff knowledge and empathy play an important part. How do they do it? By way of meeting and often exceeding customers’ expectations, because the customer – rather than the profit motive – is placed at the centre of their business in the knowledge that positive financial results will follow.
Another example is Waitrose, which was in the top 10 brands in Nunwood’s study. The partner-ownership model lies at the heart of its customer experience: MD Andy Street says “being served by an owner…is bound to see you getting better service at the front line.” And while the Top 4 retailers find themselves in an ongoing price war with ALDI and Lidl, Waitrose is able to take an outside position.
Suggested best practice for B2C SMEs: the training and culture within the company should tie in with delivering a great customer experience. Establish social media monitoring and pay attention to negative reviews. Even though they are less able to commit and sustain the same relative levels of funding for CX programs afforded by the big brands, SMEs can adopt a customer centric approach, and consistent good standard of service.
Out of the limelight, customer excellence in business to business is a greater challenge. With fewer customer accounts, a tendency to longer sales cycles, and servicing a range of client roles, planning a CX strategy is more challenging but nonetheless important.
There are a number of cornerstones to achieving a good experience and ultimately greater business opportunities:
- demonstrating a good understanding of the client’s sector and its traditional culture
- customer confidence that they are working with a reliable company
- the supplier is seen to genuinely care about making a difference to the customer both in strategic and commercial terms.
Every business sector has its own culture and norms. This is particularly prevalent in professional services such as accountants, solicitors, patent attorneys, barristers etc. From formal language to formal suit, suppliers need to understand the rules and processes and assess what approach is needed. Tom Horigan of Horigan Professional Services Marketing says that in this sector decisions are not taken lightly and the process from enquiry to adoption can typically take 18-24 months.
Nick Wake of Awaken marketing and communication services, who primarily operates in leisure, sport and I
T sectors says that availability is important, “the client knows that they can contact me at any time…I will always get back to them as soon as I can”.
Reliability and trust are also important functions of a strong client-supplier relationship across most SME business sectors. Setting the parameters on expectations from the outset and being honest and transparent about issues that arise really benefits the relationship and the overall client experience.
So often in business-to-business interactions the focus is on selling and hitting targets rather than helping the client improve their operational efficiencies or achieving their growth targets. Tom Horigan says “a positive client experience comes from really understanding what the firm wants to achieve and recognising that each firm is different in terms of structure, culture and ambition”.
Some small businesses work with subcontractors. Maintaining a positive client experience extends to the external agents you work with. Nick Wake suggests if you are working together for a client under your company brand, you need to be sharing the same values.
Suggested best practice for B2B SMEs: be comfortable with the company culture before entering a transaction with a new client as dissonant values may hamper a smooth relationship; keep communication channels open, engender trust and transparency; be prepared to take ownership of issues and respond quickly; exceed expectations.
Every small business sector can benefit from placing the customer/client at the centre of its operations and employing staff who are 100% on board with the strategy. It is obvious to most customers when a company has no inherent interest in them and is just focussed on the transaction. Why should the customer return to that business if the same service or product can be found elsewhere?
It is an unassailable truth that all customers arrive at a number of touchpoints with their supplier, irrespective of the length or duration of their engagement. The first touchpoint could be a website, a sales call, or a face to face interaction. At this entry point the supplier’s brand promise is formed in the eyes of the prospect so it has to be spot on. Other entry points could be a referral or introduction, and in that instance the supplier is managing the reputation of the referee as well as his own. Thereafter touchpoints become all and any interaction with the suppliers from communication channels (text, email, phone) and published articles including blogs, to face to face meetings. If any touchpoint fails to deliver this creates a dissonance in the relationship.
There are few companies whose business flows smoothly without any issues. Companies that deliver customer experience excellence know how to resolve issues swiftly to reinstate the customer’s positive associations with them. Often a sincere apology, accepting responsibility for the issue, and rapid remedial action is sufficient. In some instances the issues may conceal a deeper problem which requires greater introspection, and a review of the internal processes of the company.
At the heart of positive customer experience strategy is making every customer feel valued so that they will return and, most importantly, recommend the business to their network.
This week I attended a most enlightening webinar on Customer Experience Excellence delivered by David Conway, Nunwood’s Chief Strategy Officer. In it, David compared customer experience among USA companies with UK organisations and concluded that, using Customer Experience Excellence ratings, the US is years ahead. It may be something to do with the fact that digital technology and social media are much more an integrated part of business in the USA, rather than the separate disciplines that many UK and European companies consider them to be.
More likely, according to Nunwood – and no way I’d disagree – the main reason why organisations excel at delivering good customer experience is because they excel at getting the culture right in their business in the first place. They employ people with the right attitude, who are motivated to work hard and who understand the company ethos which centers around the customer. This only really works well if it is driven from the very top of the organisation, a visionary of how the customer experience should be delivered : : think Walt Disney and the Disney theme parks.
Nunwood isolates the key constituents of good CX into ‘6 Pillars of CX Excellence’:
- Personalisation – treat the customer as an individual, understand their needs, show them you know them
- Integrity – trust, demonstrate that the company stands for something bigger than profit
- Time and Effort – value the customer’s time
- Expectations – raise the bar, go the extra mile and surprise the customer with something relevant
- Resolution – transform a poor experience into a great one, assume the customers’ innocence and see their point of view
- Empathy – show emotional intelligence to the customer
Companies that embed each of the pillars into their culture and across every channel, who continuously listen to their customers and innovate their approach to CX, are at the top of the customer experience pyramid. Companies like USAA, Publix, Disney, Costco and Southwest airlines in the USA, Amazon in USA and UK, and First Direct, Waitrose, John Lewis, Nationwide and Specsavers in the UK. All excel at their customer experience.
But what about SME’s? Adopting Nunswood’s 6 Pillars is more than just a simple case of sitting the workforce down and explaining that a few things around the place are going to change. Smaller organisations are, on the whole, more adaptable to change but possibly less committed to make the financial investment required to imbue the business with a customer-centric culture. This might involve redesigning the CRM, retraining all customer facing employees and salesforce, digitising the business for social engagement, reviewing customer support agreements – indeed whatever it takes to bring the customer into its heart.
In fact, creating a good customer experience needn’t involve massive costly change all at once. For instance, take Telephony: reduce the time taken to answer customer calls AND employ a real person with product knowledge to answer calls OR reduce the number of steps in an automatic call system before customers reach the intended department. Take e-commerce: make sure your site is mobile friendly AND customer friendly signposting AND information such as carrier tracking and returns policies are clearly shown before payment is made AND the customer can get instant feedback to questions.
Of course, as most of the great CX organisations understand, putting the customer first and central doesn’t mean losing touch with the bottom line. In this inverse relationship with business the internal investment in CX becomes the main contributor to the bottom line.
“We see our customers as invited guests to a party and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better” Jeff Bezos CEO Amazon
A number of recent business articles have been banging on about the reduced need for websites as businesses and consumers have become more interested in using community platforms and user generated content. In other words, they have lost relevance to todays aggregated digital information streaming society. As one article put it ‘the delivery of content and interaction has been set free from conventional web design’.
Last year we launched this website. It may not be perfect but it explains our market research business, and we anticipate that we make subtle changes when needed to keep up with digital technology, and we overhaul the site every 2 to 3 years or when larger changes are afoot, whichever comes first. We operate B2B and use blogging and social media to drive traffic here, and with over a third of our new business last year coming through the website I am reluctant to describe it as redundant, at least not yet.
The journey that websites have taken in just two decades shows that they are willing to change and function as part of a digital strategy. However, there will come a time when website will mean something completely different, possibly a generic term for all content generated by a single user held in the cloud. What websites succeed in doing today will be incorporated into new technology tomorrow and that’s fine by me.
The last few years of marketing press has been about Big Data, it’s impact and effect of every one of us. We are surrounded by data noise but we continue to feed the data baby with social media, instant messaging, purchase transactions, GPS signals, mobile phone usage etc. It is insatiable.
Famously, IBM recently stated that we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day, so much so that 90% of the data in the world has been generated in the last two years alone. Does this mean that we are becoming more enlightened and sophisticated in the sharing and use of information? Much of the time we are responsible for creating data without even realising, which is a frightening thought. Servers record our every move / opinion / image posted, building a massive footprint for every one of us.
When we are in control of the information we generate it can have a huge impact on our lives, enabling us to make informed decisions about our spending, the products we use, travel, health issues, investments etc. Social media has transformed the lives of many creating a wide network of ‘friends’ to share thoughts, create ideas, post images and videos, and stream media. When it is out of our control it we can simply feel disconnected at best, or it can inflict serious damage to our reputation at worst.
Businesses on the other hand have only scratched the surface of Big Data. Too often it is seen as a CRM tool, as a means to capture prospects, to broadcast their brand message across the net. Many companies still do not have a social media marketing policy. They generate the same content across Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter et al without understanding the different platforms, audiences, usage patterns etc. Multi media advertising is seen as a great opportunity for many advertisers, but it risks alienating customers: consumers can find it ‘annoying’, ‘intrusive’, or skip it as soon as it appears on their screen.
Companies can benefit from getting to know their customer beyond the CRM metrics. Engaging with them on social media creates a greater opportunity to manage what is being said about the brand, and identifying advocates creates a mouthpiece for positive marketing. Crowd sourcing and co-creation treats customers as part of the team and engages with them in a way that was hitherto seen as risky by marketing teams.
Big Data has so many more applications for business it is almost unfathomable. Detailed knowledge of suppliers, supply chain and prices can deliver efficiencies and greater control over the costs and timescales impacting the business. As for consumers, we are benefiting from the impact of information through greater choice of products and services, more intelligent pricing, and a broader knowledge of the world around us.
Like it or loathe it, like the universe Big Data can only expand.
Corporate and brand image is indivisible in today’s global social streaming online culture. It is not enough to listen in on conversations, marketing needs to be at the heart of it all, steering consumers’ views in positive directions and using a tone of voice across all media that is compelling.
Private Online Communities have become a popular research tool amongst marketers for trying out ideas amongst an engaged population of consumers. Companies benefit by developing products and services that are co-designed by the people who will use them, they also benefit because they have a deeper understanding of their customers. Marketing communications become more in tune with the language that motivates and works for their audience on different media and devices.
Private because few marketers want to share their ideas with their competitors.
What is a Private Online Community?
This is an invitation-only targeted community of consumers brought together on a web platform for the purpose of enabling marketing to gain valuable insights over a period of time.
Communities are frequently built around internal CRM databases and often use people who are already signed up to social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc and are active in expressing their views and sharing posts. The community will share a common interest in a brand, product or service, or represent a specific customer segment. Their views and opinions are important and marketing can dip in and out to test ideas and hypotheses amongst this brand savvy audience.
Examples of types of research for online communities:
Co-creation, Concept development and progression, Semiotics, Surveys, Customer journey development, Tracking studies, Advertising development
Are communities an expensive way to do research?
Yes and no. There are of course limitations to a defined panel and it is not ideal for all research needs; factoring in the cost of a panel as well as other research requirements may be prohibitive.
But if the client has a regular requirement for research of the type listed earlier which a defined community can address there can be considerable cost and time savings over traditional online research methods. For companies which require frequent feedback, and may be going through a development or change process, or who are running a long term customer engagement or communications program, a panel is a cost effective solution.
Who manages the community?
A community manager keeps the panellists active on a day-to-day basis. The manager ‘listens’ to conversations and feedback from panellists, and regularly feeds them with activities that will deliver important insights to the client. The WDG Community Manager is a researcher and insights specialist who can moderate groups and interpret the ‘voice’ of the panel to the client.
For more information about our panel services contact Margot or Louise on 01494 772436 or email email@example.com
Social media’s mega flow into all aspects of business and personal interaction is having a significant impact on corporate communications. A report conducted by executive search company Spencer Stuart and pr firm Weber Shandwick, and neatly summarised in Warc News suggests that CCOs are placing greater emphasis on content publishing and are taking more responsibility for marketing within their company. The reason? – The Rising CCO report says that 84% of respondents agree that corporate reputation and brand reputation have become indivisable.
This report is based on research among 203 CCOs in Europe, N America, Asia Pacific, and Latin America 73% of whom are hiring more social media experts in response.
To drag out an old cliche, everyone’s a critic now. Cliche’d or not it has never been more apt in an era of social media where customers are increasingly airing their opinions and companies are struggling to respond fast enough. Sometimes the opinions are positive, constructive, and affirming, but some are negative and occasionally damaging in their vitriol. The fact that each customer is likely to share their bad experience with, on average, 5.3 social contacts (American Express Global Customer Service barometer) should be sufficient evidence for companies to realise that they need to forge better relationships with their market and pre-empt potential bad experiences. In other Marketing needs to tighten its control over its brands.
If a negative experience can send shockwaves rippling across Facebook, consider the impact of a positive customer experience. Customers who feel valued and listened to soon become advocates of your brand, and since people are more inclined to take recommendations from friends and peers rather than advertising or marketing, a glowing review is more effective in building brand loyalty and trust.
Engaged customers are invaluable; they understand the brand, have positive associations with it, know what it delivers in the way that they as individuals interface with it i.e. their own personal journey. This intellectual capital, when tapped into and employed becomes an extension of marketing’s think-tank. The honest opinions and real-time reactions of a social community of brand advocates and influential customers is invaluable when it comes to creating and progressing concepts and ideas. This engaged community make important contributions to the process and their reward is knowing that they have a say in how their brand is developed and communicated.
In the ‘olden days’ marketers rejected the idea of customers as creatives. Today Co-creation is a valuable insight and development process. It uses the creative energy of engaged consumers, brand experts, designers and stakeholders to significantly reduce the idea generation and gestation stage of a new product or marketing campaign. Physically bringing these groups together in a day of co-creation activity can’t be described as an exact science but is a hugely successful approach to Big Thinking where disruptive ideas emerge, are refined and developed until desirable concepts emerge. The entire approach is inclusive to all groups and entirely transparent.
Co-creation online is sometimes criticised as unwieldy with no control over intellectual property. However, many companies have achieved success using this approach. Coca Cola most famously used a global online community to co-create ‘Energize Refreshment’ as explained by Leonardo O’Grady ASEAN Director of Integrated Marketing Communications http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyLh9jwVCGs
Insight techniques are developing as fast as consumers are becoming digitally sophisticated. That’s not to say that keeping close to customers and involving them in brand decisions has become less complicated. It hasn’t but the advantage with today’s insight tools is that companies can engage 24/7 with their customers, identify brand advocates, and tap into their intellectual capital. It’s all about using insight to deliver better understanding of customers, build brand loyalty and respond in real-time to marketing challenges.
Talking Marketing Research here. There are plenty of risks taken, shelved and avoided in business; that’s what makes it exciting. In marketing research the plan is to lessen the risk with clever insights using carefully considered research design.
When I was a junior client researcher I attended numerous training courses and workshops aimed at increasing my understanding of research techniques and analyses. Without fail, someone would mention ‘risk limitation‘; that by using market research to test theories or products or customer opinions it limits the company’s risk of making a costly mistake. Some went as far as to say that risk limitation is the definition of marketing research.
In my last blog I referred to an article questioning if companies are becoming more risk averse. Certainly, the article mooted, UK companies were more risk averse than their US and European counterparts. This has been reflected in the shallower depth of pockets of most marketing departments, although more recently budgets have improved since the economy has shown ‘shoots of recovery’.
Risk aversion in a competitive market is a foolish strategy. By definition it limits investment where there is no tangible proof of return. Many large companies have already invested in software to keep a keen eye on their customers and suppliers: in-house CRM and Salesforce systems serve as eyes and ears among a definitive audience; digital marketing activity, channel marketing and social media monitoring effectively keep the audience busy. But how do metrics, likes and click thru’s convert to sales in a dynamic market? And what of stagnated product development and the open invitation to competitor’s to enter, or the impact of competitors’ activity on customer loyalty? What effect does risk aversion have on employees?
In a non risk averse environment marketing research limits the risk by identifying pinch points in any development plan. These glitches can be ironed out by further research so that at each stage the level of risk diminishes. A program of research drawn up at the same time as the marketing plan/strategy keeps a hold on the budget and prevents it from spiraling off the chart. It is not a case of the more you spend on research the less the risk, but the greater the risk is when you fail to acknowledge the value of marketing research.
Risk management is a much healthier strategy for uncertain economic times. Knowing which activity to progress relies on more than in house metrics. Ad hoc marketing research is needed from concept development to launch and beyond. A multi media campaign, brand launch, or promotions campaign, for example will require measures to test their effectiveness, that the message is understood and engaged with.
Marketing research does not sit aloof from CRM and Salesforce systems. Rather, it works alongside the data, fleshing it out and making sense of what is happening. As marketing spend recovers from the austere years UK companies will be more challenging in their campaigns I have no doubt. Where there is great (marketing) success, there will be a fine researcher.
A quick clarification of ‘new generation’ before blogging on. Online research has been around for some time now with lots of options to choose from (online panels, communities, internal CRM, social media..). Improvements in digital and mobile research has meant that greater value can be gained across all nternet-based platforms to reach an audience. These tools are evolving in sophistication and accessibility, so for the moment we are using the collective term ‘new generation’ to separate them from traditional approaches in quantitative research.
Online research, social media and community panels have now eclipsed traditional quant methods in terms of preference by marketers, but seriously, does new mean better? There are limitations to both and it is these that hinder the quality outcome of studies. So before embarking on a new research programme, consider the options against the objectives and the audience to be measured.
At WDG we believe in the specific merits of both new generation and traditional methods and will always promote the best tool for the job. Online research is cost effective, fast and controllable. Traditional face to face and telephone interviewing benefits from person-to-person interaction; the interviewer can challenge responses and clarify questions at any point in the proceedings.
Simplifying your choice
The benefits of new generation research methods
It’s cost effective. There is no denying that this is the case; recruitment costs are reduced where respondents are more easily reached through the internet; social media sites have a ready made engaged audience to test early concepts and opinions; in many instances survey software has already been developed thereby minimizing set-up costs.
It’s time saving. Time is money and automated analytics is a significant time saver; the process from questionnaire deployment to analysis is faster; real time data can be customised and fed instantaneously to key personnel, regional offices, and stakeholders.
It’s convenient. Respondents can complete the study at a convenient time and place – within a stated time frame; smartphone and tablet usage enables greater convenience and comfort in completing surveys; sensitive and personal questions can be asked without compromising respondents’ privacy. This achieves a potent quality and reliability of response.
A wider geographic reach as more of the UK/global population uses internet and digital media.
Multimedia stimuli can be used and responded to.
The benefits of traditional quantitative methods
Not everyone is internet/social media savvy; just because someone has internet doesn’t mean they have the time or interest in completing online surveys; traditional survey recruitment reaches all segments of the population.
Benefits taste, smell and feel studies, such as product development.
Non-verbal responses add depth and clarity to trad face to face interviews
Challenge responses where it is felt respondent didn’t fully understand question; ideal for more complex surveys.
When deciding which approach will work best for your research study, consider who your audience is (are they active social media users? what is the internet/smartphone penetration amongst this audience?), and what you expect them to do and over what duration (online has a higher drop-out rate than traditional).
We hope we have overturned the myth that traditional quantitative research has had its day – it will always have an important place in marketing development and planning. New generation methodologies are improving and developing to enable faster and more precise readings of audiences, but human interaction is here to stay.
WDG has undertaken many investigations involving consumers using the internet in the last couple of years. We have tracked the customer’s journey from initial category search and research through e-commerce sites and interface with retail companies, and on to final transaction and post purchase experience. We have talked to consumers about their search experiences, the influence of different forms of online and digital advertising, and what it all means.
Most of them understand the relationship between what they search and the advertising that appears on their digital screen. They realise that advertising revenue on social media sites enables users to enjoy the freedom of engagement with a wide population. This is acceptable to some and can be an annoying consequence for others.
Advertisers and media buyers, with a larger pond to play in have to be more canny with their budgets. Clever use of algorithms on search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc) allows advertisers to target their audience and create greater ROI opportunities. More detailed analysis of time lag and keywords used in searches means that consumers are “bombarded” with adverts for a search interest long after the interest has evaporated.
This is not so acceptable amongst the consumers we spoke to – hence the frequency of the expression “bombarded”. Rather than show a residual interest in the advertised brand, they declare that they ignore it, or ‘close’ it. Unless the brand relates to a frequently purchased item (e.g grocery) or renewal products such as insurance or mobile phone contracts the consumer will move on because they are “no longer in the market” to buy.
At a cognitive level the advertisers of frequently bought and renewal items (e.g supermarkets and comparison sites) will have greater success than advertisers whose products have a longer shelf life, say white goods or smart TVs. Frequently appearing ads for products that consumers are no longer interested in become “annoying” and “interfere” with their enjoyment online in a way that TV commercials simply don’t. Can advertisers afford to upset their audience and waste valuable media dollars?
Online and digital advertising is still in its infancy and media analysts have an increasingly sophisticated set of tools to measure search patterns and frequency amongst segmented audiences as well as create campaigns which are more engaging and interactive. WDG will continue to talk to consumers and feedback to advertisers and media agencies, and look forward to a time when audiences can have greater engagement with, and a positive reaction to, online adverts.